A team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot has discovered that taking a breath before doing something can mean a higher chance of success at the task at hand.
Prof. Noam Sobel’s lab, which normally focuses on the sense of smell, took a look at how breathing influences a person’s ability to succeed at a task, New Scientist magazine reported.
Sobel’s experiment hooked test subjects up to a device that measured how much air they breathed through their nose. After the subjects pressed a button to start the test, they were shown a picture of a shape and asked if what they saw was real or contrived.
For a different group of subjects, the lab team pushed the button and then asked if a certain word was real or not.
The results showed that subjects who inhaled before answering the shape question got it right 73 percent of the time, while those who exhaled first scored only 68%. There was no significant difference in the word question, where some test subjects did better breathing out before answering.
“In cognitive brain science we’re often used to looking at minute differences that gain statistical significance over large data sets,” Sobel, chairman of Weizmann’s Department of Neurobiology, told New Scientist. “It’s a real difference in performance.”
The experiment also measured brain activity during the tasks and discovered different electrical activity when participants breathed in through their noses, but not when they exhaled.
“This means your brain processes things differently from inhale to exhale,” Sobel said in the interview.
Sobel heads the Olfaction Research Group, which investigates the sense of smell in human subjects and in machines — what Sobel calls “electronic noses.”